McCutchen leads talented Pirates outfield

McCutchen leads talented Pirates outfield

McCutchen leads talented Pirates outfield
Andrew McCutchen is one the best young players in baseball, and the Pirates made sure that he will wear their uniform for the foreseeable future when they signed him to six-year contract in early March. The 25-year-old former first-round Draft pick has been Pittsburgh's starting center fielder since June 2009, and last season, he led the team in home runs (23), RBIs (89), runs scored (87) and stolen bases (23) -- plus, he was named to the National League All-Star squad for the first time.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, the man who writes McCutchen's name on the lineup card every day, is among the many who believe we haven't seen the best of him yet.

"Andrew only has about 1,500 Major League at-bats, so he's still trying to identify all of his strengths and the things he needs to improve on," the skipper said. "I think there's a hybrid in there that you're going to see play out in front of your eyes here in Pittsburgh, given time. He's going to hit home runs. He's going to hit triples. He's going to steal more bases. His defense has gotten better. This is a kid with five tools that's still figuring his way out. Every time he excels in one area, the league throws him a counterpunch to try and set him back, but he's gifted player."

McCutchen, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs about 190 pounds, agrees with Hurdle's assessment that he's a good hitter with power, not a power hitter.

"People know by looking at me that I'm not that big of a guy, but if a pitcher makes a mistake, I can make him pay," McCutchen said. "That's pretty much what it's all about. I'm not going up there trying to hit home runs. I think that's something I probably tried to do a little too much of last year. That's why the average dropped down to where it was [.259]. But I learned from those mistakes, and I'm going to work hard, stay within my game and stay within myself. If I do that, I'm going to be able to have the year that I know I can have."

The Ft. Meade, Fla., native also regrets that he didn't try to steal more bases in 2011, and he's vowed to be more aggressive in that department this year.

"Last year, I said I needed to go more, but I never really went," he said. "I want to get to the point where they know you're going to try and take the bag, but they can't do anything to stop you. That's my goal, and I'm looking forward to having way more than 23 stolen bases this year."

McCutchen also plays an excellent brand of defense as he proved last season, when he led all NL center fielders with 430 chances and 414 putouts. This year, he's flanked by Alex Presley in left and Jose Tabata in right. Presley and Tabata both played center for at least a portion of their Minor League careers, and Nate McLouth -- who is currently the team's fourth outfielder -- won a Gold Glove Award as the Pirates' center fielder in 2008. In addition, there's a pair of excellent center fielders with Pittsburgh's Triple-A Indianapolis club right now, in Starling Marte and Gorkys Hernandez (who are alternating between left and center).

It's rare that one organization would have so many players capable of manning center field, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is firm believer that you can never have too many talented players at any position.

"Andrew is a fixture in center field as we go forward, but we need a second center fielder in left field in our ballpark at PNC Park," he said. "We're very quickly coming across some depth in the outfield, and what's interesting is that most of them can play center field and play center field well -- with Tabata, Presley, McCutchen, Marte and Hernandez. We've got guys that are knocking on the door, and that's a great place to be as an organization. You want to have guys ready to step in if there are injuries or substandard performances, and we're getting closer to that every single day. Clint now has a lot of options in the outfield."

Jim Lachimia is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.